The Jakarta Post
On the face of it, the decision of the Bandung City Population and Civil Registry Agency in West Java to issue identity cards with a “faith” field rather than a “religion” one, may seem like a progressive move.
The move could also be seen as bold given the fact that it was made by government officials operating in a province deemed one of the most religiously conservative in the country. Kudos should also go to local administrations in Semarang, Tegal, Blora, Jepara and Cilacap all in Central Java, which have decided to allow believers of non-denominational faiths to simply check “faith” in the religion field on their identity card.
As a matter of fact, we should also give praise to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in response to a judicial review of articles 61 and 64 of Law No 23/2013 on population administration that denying to record native faiths in the identity card violated the principle of equality before the law.
But as with many other political decisions, the devil is in the detail. The absence of guidance on how to implement the court decision has not only made the decision to include “faith” on identity cards ineffective; it could in fact spell more trouble for followers of native faiths in the country. We could argue that the court decision and the follow-up policies from some local administrations are not progressive enough simply because it lumps myriad local native faiths into one generic term “faith”.
This decision reduces to a simple administrative category the complexity of personal and social aspects of subscribing to a faith that has been passed down for generations.
Further, the decision to allow “faith” to be listed on identity cards could bring problems for holders of cards that list a native faith. For years now, government workers in bureaucracy have had a keen eye for discrimination based on some arbitrary demographic or political category. Under the New Order regime for instance, the government came up with a special code for those suspected to have an affiliation with the now-defunct Indonesian Communist Party (PKI), and based on this code — which was printed on identity cards — officials could deny them basic administrative services.
Even for those who subscribed to minority faiths recognized by the government, the bureaucracy could find ways to discriminate against these people, especially when they set out to build a place of worship.
How can we be sure that putting “faith” in the religion field would not encourage more discrimination; or in the event of a political crisis, what would be the guarantee that subscribers to these non-denominational faiths would not be targeted by pogroms.
The most progressive step the government can take is simply to do away with the religion field. Just drop it from the identity card, because religion is your personal business.